On Food Stamps and Designer Jeans
Have you ever seen that mom wearing designer jeans and heels in front of you at the grocery store with two tiny kids in tow? The one who you don’t look twice at, until she pulls out a Food Stamp card? Now suddenly you find yourself questioning how she can afford that purse, those shoes, that makeup, those tattoos? It makes you feel a little guilty, but kind of angry and very confused.
I’ve seen her. I’ve judged her. I’VE BEEN HER.
I’ve spent my entire life working hard. I worked hard to obtain my degrees. I worked hard to land some pretty incredible jobs. I created opportunities for myself, all of which led to living a financially stable life. I bought nice clothes and shoes and makeup. I sat comfortable in my own skin knowing I earned these things.
Fast forward a few years. I’m a newly single mom trying to figure out my next steps. I was somewhat selectively applying for jobs because I needed to find one that would cover the cost of daycare for my sons. I was registered with employment agencies and attended job fairs. I took free courses online at the library to enhance my marketability while my kids played at my feet. A few months later, my savings were gone. I was struggling. I lived in a shady apartment and scrambled to pay rent. I sold handmade tags and greeting cards and tried to cover our expenses.
It took longer than it should have for me to realize I needed help; that I needed to apply for government assistance. It was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. I called my mom who lives 1,500 miles away and sobbed while she spent an hour building me up. I felt ashamed. I felt like I failed. I cried so hard I had to pull my car over twice before I made it to the office. I had to sit in my car to calm myself down enough to enter the building. I walked in and was ashamed of my clothes. I was wearing designer jeans.
WHO WAS I TO BE WEARING DESIGNER JEANS?
I choked out my request to the woman at the front desk. She came around as I collapsed onto the floor where she sat and cried with me. She told me I was going to be okay. She told me she was proud of me for coming in. She walked me through the application. I gave her my bank records, the kids’ birth certificates and lease agreement, and then I handed her my resume. I still don’t know why I brought my resume. She held both sides of my face and said, “You look at me. You deserve this help. You are a taxpayer, and this service was created for you.”
I was on SNAP for 3 months. I was offered a job shortly after applying for assistance. I took the job and more than 3 years later, I am still here.
I share this story with you in hopes that you might smile at that woman in the grocery store. Maybe you will even tell her today is her day. I can promise you she will remember your kindness and it will help her through those dark weeks.